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State Department

Rainbow Railroad to participate in new US refugee resettlement program

State Department announced Welcome Corps on Thursday

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A flyer from the U.N. Refugee Agency in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on Jan. 29, 2019, advises migrants who are fleeing violence, persecution, war or discrimination have a right to apply for refugee status. Rainbow Railroad is participating in a new State Department program that will allow American citizens to help refugees resettle in the U.S. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A group that works with LGBTQ and intersex refugees and asylum seekers will participate in a State Department program that will allow American citizens to help refugees resettle in the U.S.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced Welcome Corps, which a senior State Department official noted will allow Americans to “form private sponsor groups to support refugees and help them integrate into American society as thriving members of their local communities.” Another senior State Department official told reporters the program in its first year hopes to “mobilize at least” 10,000 Americans “to step forward as private sponsors and offer a welcoming hand to at least” 5,000 refugees.

Rainbow Railroad is among the organizations with which the State Department has partnered to help implement the program. The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration is also participating in Welcome Corps.

“We are excited to see the impact of this program, which will empower communities of care — LGBTQI+ Americans supporting LGBTQI+ refugees. This program will help at-risk LGBTQI+ people get to safety across the United States,” said Rainbow Railroad in a press release. “As an organization with extensive experience and expertise in private sponsorship, including in Canada, Rainbow Railroad was proud to be a consultative partner in the development of this new U.S. program, advocating for a model that will support LGBTQI+ persons at risk.”

“We are excited to be recognized as a private sponsorship organization by the U.S. consortium which is going to be operating this private sponsorship program,” added the organization. “This is an important moment for global LGBTQI+ rights and the advancement of refugee support in the United States, and we look forward to the opportunity to get more at-risk LGBTQI+ people to safety through this new program.”  

Rainbow Railroad in 2022 helped resettle LGBTQ and intersex refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia and more than 30 other countries. President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

The White House earlier this month announced the creation of a humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans that officials said combines “safe, orderly and lawful pathways to the United States, including authorization to work.”

Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection app “can seek advance authorization to travel to the United States and be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for a temporary grant of parole for up to two years, including employment authorization, provided that they: Pass righrous biometric and biographic national security and public safety screening and vetting; have a supporter in the United States who commits to providing financial and other support and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements.” The Biden administration also announced it will expand the use of “expedited removal” of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans who enter the U.S. from Mexico without legal authorization. 

Immigration Equality and the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration are among the myriad organizations that sharply criticized the White House over its expanded use of “expedited removal.” 

The Biden administration has sought to end Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic, but Texas and more than a dozen other states filed a lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled the Trump-era rule must remain in place. Oral arguments are expected to take place in the case next month. 

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State Department

Ned Price named UN ambassador’s deputy

Former State Department spokesperson is gay

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Former State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield has announced former State Department spokesperson Ned Price will manage her D.C. office.

Thomas-Greenfield in a statement to Politico on Feb. 16 said Price’s “judgment and expertise will be a tremendous asset to me and the entire USUN team.” Price, who is gay, in a post to his personal X account acknowledged his appointment.

“I am grateful to (U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield), (Secretary of State Antony Blinken) and my colleagues across the administration for the opportunity to help promote America’s interests and values in the U.N. and broader multilateral system together with our allies and partners,” wrote Price.

Price on Jan. 20, 2021, became the first openly gay State Department spokesperson. He stepped down in March 2023 in order to become a senior advisor to Blinken.

Price was previously a senior communications official for the National Security Council and worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.

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State Department

Blinken visits Nigeria

State Department has not said whether LGBTQ rights specifically raised

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Nigerian President Bola Tinubu in Abuja, Nigeria, on Jan. 23, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Blinken's X account)

The State Department has not said whether Secretary of State Antony Blinken specifically raised LGBTQ rights during his trip to Nigeria last week. 

Blinken was in the country between Jan. 23-24. He also visited Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire and Angola while in Africa.

A State Department spokesperson on Jan. 26 told the Washington Blade that Blinken while in Africa “had private conversations with public sector representatives engaged in the health field and with civil society representatives involved in human rights, democracy, education and food security work.”  

Jan. 24 post on Blinken’s X account includes a picture of him meeting with representatives of Nigerian civil society organizations. The post does not indicate whether any of those with whom Blinken met represent LGBTQ advocacy groups and/or identify as LGBTQ.

“Nigerian civil society organizations are critical to strengthening institutions and protecting human rights,” said Blinken. “I sat down with a few leaders to discuss the U.S.-Nigeria partnership to work on shared challenges and deliver on the fundamental aspirations of our peoples.”

Blinken also visited the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research in Lagos, the country’s largest city.

“The work that the U.S. and Nigeria are doing together goes back to the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the extraordinary PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program,” said Blinken on a Jan. 24 X post. “I had the opportunity to tour the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research and see firsthand the work they are doing to improve public health.”

Blinken on Jan. 23 met with President Bola Tinubu in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and later held a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf Tuggar.

“As I told the president and the foreign minister, the United States will support Nigeria as it works to bring about a more secure, a more peaceful and a more prosperous future for its people,” said Blinken. 

“Fundamentally, this outcome is an investment in the foundations of an inclusive, democratic society — a focus on equal opportunity for all regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other group distinction,” he added. “That helps build the social cohesion. That also deters banditry, deters terrorism, deters violent extremism.” 

Blinken during the press conference also highlighted PEPFAR and its work in Nigeria.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve invested $8.3 billion in HIV and tuberculosis prevention, care, and treatment and in strengthening the public health system, reaching millions of Nigerians,” he said. “That effort will continue.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that commits the U.S. to the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

Vice President Kamala Harris last March spoke about LGBTQ rights during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo in Accra, the country’s capital.

Ghana and Nigeria are among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in areas of Nigeria that are under Sharia law.

Then-Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that, among other things, punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage in his country with up to 14 years in prison and bans membership in an LGBTQ advocacy group.

Authorities in Gombe state last October arrested 76 people who were “celebrating homosexual birthdays” and planning to “hold a same-sex marriage.” 

Police in Delta state last August took into custody more than 200 people who were attending a same-sex wedding at a hotel. Authorities later paraded some of those who were arrested in front of journalists. 

LGBTQ elected officials from d.c. and maryland participate in a protest with activists outside the nigerian embassy in northwest washington on sept. 12, 2023. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

“In our own programming and diplomatic engagements, we work with international partners in bilateral and multilateral forums to encourage strong and sustained support for democratic governance, respect for the human rights of all, labor rights, media freedom, a strong civil society and government transparency and accountability,” said the State Department spokesperson with whom the Blade spoke on Jan 26.

The spokesperson earlier in the week noted the promotion of “democracy, good governance and respect for human rights of all persons is at the center of our foreign policy, including in our relationships with our African partners.” 

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State Department

State Department urges Burundian government to respect human rights

Country’s president on Dec. 30 called for public stoning of gay people

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Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye (Screen capture via Gentil Gedeon Official YouTube)

A State Department spokesperson on Thursday urged Burundian leaders to respect human rights.

“We call on all of Burundi’s leaders to respect the inherent dignity and universal rights, including equal access to justice, of every member of Burundian society,” the spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement.

Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye on Dec. 30 said gay people should be publicly stoned. He also said any Burundian who lives outside the country and openly identifies as LGBTQ should not return. 

Activists and French MP Marie Lebec are among those who sharply criticized Ndayishimiye’s comments. The statement the State Department spokesperson sent to the Blade does not specifically reference LGBTQ people. (President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The White House subsequently appointed Jessica Stern as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.)

“Respect for and support for human rights promotes peace, security and prosperity,” the State Department spokesperson told the Blade. “That respect is an essential precursor to spur the economic growth necessary to improve conditions for all Burundians.”

The spokesperson added the U.S. “condemns calls for violence or discrimination against any individuals for exercising their human rights.”      

“The United States is committed to promoting respect for the human rights of all individuals, at home and abroad,” said the spokesperson. ”Promoting respect for and protection of the human rights of all individuals is a U.S. foreign policy priority, and the Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring U.S. diplomacy and development reflects this.”

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